Ahead of the Primary Elections in the US: The Status Quo and Revolution

By Nemanja Milosevic

The Democratic primary season in the US has started, and different candidates have lined up with a message “I can beat Donald Trump”. Getting Trump out of office has become a goal not only of the democrats, who are opposing this president more than any other “ideological rival” in recent history but also of many centrist, independents and some republicans. The fear and frustration are expressed by many of my friends from the US, who in a recent conversation confessed that they have not been so scared, they are tired of hearing about physical attacks at people of different identities, racist politics, divisiveness, and many other things that characterize the Trump presidency. This frustration is expressed by one of my friends who is in his twenties, who is tired of the tensions in the current political climate and who would rather go and spend time abroad.

Another friend, who in the previous elections supported Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, because she can get things done (an argument used by many Democratic voters in the 2016 Democratic Primaries), now supports candidates who are proposing more leftist policies, like Elizabeth Warren. He is frustrated that he cannot have things in his country, probably the richest country in the history of the world, that are common and exist in other developed countries for decades.

Redefining what it means to be a Democrat

Economic liberties, small government and promotion of private ownership have for a long time been a symbol of US politics and ideology, which was part of the so-called American dream, where your entrepreneurial skills and hard work can get you up the ladder and improve your lifestyle significantly.

That has become difficult with the acceleration of globalization processes, Amazon getting benefits such as a total tax exemption made impossible for any other business to compete on the market. Job automatization, trade agreements and outsourcing of jobs left many people unemployed and wealth inequality has surged. Unemployment among young people is increasing and it is now expected that for the first time in modern history, a generation of children will be worse off socially and economically that their parents [1].

All that leads to a change in mainstream politics, where calling someone a socialist is not an insult in the US any longer. The last time a centrist democrat was elected a president was in 2012, and since there have been seven generations of young Americans who have entered the political process by turning 18 and getting the right to vote. That changed the political landscape so much that someone like Bernie Sanders, a socialist democratic candidate in 2016 got so close to beating Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. The ideas that he then presented, that many called radical socialist ones, such as a universal healthcare plan, commonly known as Medicare for All, are now widely accepted, not only by young liberal democrats but by Americans in general [2]. Other policies that Bernie introduced three years ago also got mainstream appeal – student debt cancelation, publicly funded higher education and a 15$-per-hour minimum wage.

Identifying candidates: From Left to Center

The ideas that Sanders presented during the last primaries and the defeat of Hillary Clinton in the general election have changed the approach of the Democratic Party establishment and had a large influence on the candidates that entered the race this time. It was obvious from the early stage that Sanders has moved the bar to the left, when normally known centrist democrats presented some policies mimicking those of Sanders, but with enough back-tracking to satisfy both the donors (necessary for financing campaigns in the States, and who are usually against policies such as those of Sanders) and the changing democratic base that overwhelmingly supports the turn to the left.

Confronted with these new progressive candidates made Sanders move further to the left, thus changing his rhetoric and policies to the extremes (such as the plan to combat global warming worth 16 trillion dollars, in comparison to the one of Elizabeth Warren worth 2 trillion $). He has now come out as an anti-establishment candidate [3], recognizing the damage he suffered the last time by the DNC (Democratic National Committee) that ran the primary season heavily favoring Clinton, and he is calling out the establishment media [4] that has a clear bias against him [5], such as The Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, the company that is often under fire by the Sanders campaign. Another thing that changed since the last time he ran is the campaign and the outreach to different demographics, which was something he was heavily criticized for. Having people of different backgrounds on key positions in his campaign brought him popularity among young voters of color [6].

Candidate next in line on the progressive side after Bernie would be Elizabeth Warren, drawing a lot of inspiration from the Sanders’ campaign in 2016, just without renouncing corporatism, the Democratic establishment, and the media. She appeals largely to the white, college-educated voters [7], which may have something to do with the fact that she was a university professor and has detailed and precise plans and policies to introduce proposals such as Medicare for All or free college (opposite from Sanders, who uses more populist language to explain and propose similar things).

On the more centrist side, we have Kamala Harris, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg (more candidates would fall into this category, but their polling numbers are too low). Harris is a Democratic establishment and media darling, former prosecutor and a talented debater. Other than that, her campaign is failing to maintain cohesion throughout the process, as she flip-flops on many issues, most probably based on what is popular in the polls or with donors. Most notably, she changed her opinion on Medicare for All, and although she co-sponsored the Sanders’ bill, she now backtracks as it becomes obvious that she cannot compete with Warren and Sanders in that arena and has no chance of attracting the progressive base. One of the things that negatively affect her popularity is her record as a prosecutor, as pointed out in the second debate by another candidate – her work as a prosecutor affected negatively and to a large extent the black community in California, where she worked.

Biden and Buttigieg are other centrist candidates that run on moderate policies and realistic solutions, which goes along with the idea of bringing the divided country back together, which for more progressive thinkers and politicians means that they are ready to succumb to Republicans and not fight for things that the Democratic base wants and needs.


One thing that is on everyone’s mind is electability. It does not matter who has better policies, but who can beat Trump. This is also the argument that even the Biden’s wife used to promote him on one occasion, she claims that although he might not be the best on policies such as Medicare for All, he is the one that can beat Trump in general elections (I assume it is due to name recognition, as he was a vice of a very popular president) and thus deserves everyone’s support [8]. I would argue that this claim is debatable, as Biden exposed several weaknesses that someone as unscrupulous and vicious as Trump can use easily in the debates. Those being claims of several women that Biden touched them inappropriately and countless verbal gaffes that Biden had (the most notable one being the gaffe in one speech where he said that poor kids are just as bright as white kids, when wanting to say wealthy kids [9]).

The danger that lays there is that Trump can easily downplay his sexual misconducts and racism by claiming that the Democratic candidate expresses the same behavior (Biden also bragged about working with segregationists in the past, which drew critiques from other candidates of color and civil rights movements). Other than that, it would be a great risk having a centrist candidate that does not excite the base – his rallies attract smaller and more inert crowds when compared to some candidates who poll way lower than him at the moment. If we consider 2016 as an experiment of how would a centrist candidate measure against Trump, we can conclude that Biden might not be the best choice.

Both Sanders and Warren show great potential to beat Trump by a large margin, as some current polls may suggest. I think that is crucial to go with a more progressive candidate in general elections, especially the one that dedicates his/her political activity to issues that concern the part of the population that is hurt by the globalized economy, neo-conservative measures and the strong relationship between political establishment and corporations. Recent poll showed that 90% of voters identifying themselves as Republicans think that Trump is still doing a great job [10], so going with a centrist because he/she can gather support from democrats and republicans who do not like Trump would not work, since that would alienate a large portion of progressive voters and not attract enough republican voters.

Between the two progressive candidates, they both have good things to offer. Warren would be the first female president, a progressive one and with detailed plans and policies proving that everything she proposes is meticulously planned. On the other hand, she suffered an incident when she claimed that she has Native-American origin, followed by a DNA test that showed that she is only an insignificant fraction a Native-American. This backfired when Trump called her out on it and gave her the nickname “Pocahontas” [11]. She has apologized since, but still shows the inability to confront that incident when asked.

Unlike Harris or Sanders, she has not shown yet skills that she could use in a confrontation with Trump. She did well and could be named a winner of both democratic debates, but lacks the audacity that Sanders expresses, for example. In a recent tweet, Sanders called Trump “an idiot”, and has shown in many cases that he can be loud and eloquent at the same time, which are the skills that could benefit someone going against Trump. Recent research showed that Republican candidates tend to use nouns phrases that work efficiently in a political debate, as they “essentializing”, they appear to express an indisputable feature,

and that is how nicknames that Trump assigns to his opponents work [12]. “Sleepy Joe”, “Crazy Bernie” and “Pocahontas” are nicknames that Trump has for top Democratic candidates, and it is very important to have an opponent who can go against a bully, as campaign for this general election would not be a typical, solely policy-based one (which is a style of debate where Warren excels).

It is still early on in the primary season to make any firm claim, but it is important to recognize mistakes from 2016 and do everything possible to avoid them this time, especially the ones that DNC has power over. It is important to present a candidate that can excite the base – the Democratic, not the moderate Republican one – challenges the dominant narrative (and avoid going back to status quo), has oratory skills to go against a bully and has a clean record (avoiding affairs such as Hilary’s emails or Benghazi). In any event, a recent poll shows that support for Biden decreases, while for Sanders and Warren surges [13]. We could say that so far things are going well.

Featured picture: President of the United States Donald J. Trump at CPAC 2017 February 24th 2017 by Michael Vadon


[1] Charles Hymas, More than two thirds of millennials believe their generation will be “worse off “ than their parents’. Guardian. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/07/07/two-thirds-millennials-believe-generation-will-worse-parents/

[2] Megan Keller, Seventy percent of Americans support “Medicare for all”; in new poll. The Hill. https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/403248-poll-seventy-percent-of-americans-support-medicare-for-all

[3] The Beat With Ari Melber, Sanders Campaign Unloads On Dem “Establishment”: Be “Terrified”. MSNBC. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CN_1skpp8cA

[4] John Nichols, Bernie Sanders Is As Frustrated as Ever With Corporate Media, The Nation. https://www.thenation.com/article/bernie-sanders-corporate-media/

[5] Adam Johnson, Washington Post Ran 16 Negative Stories on Bernie Sanders in 16 Hours, Fair.org. https://fair.org/home/washington-post-ran-16-negative-stories-on-bernie-sanders-in-16-hours/

[6] Hunter Walker, Bernie Sanders campaign touts its diversity and fights “the narrative of 2016”;. Yahoo! News. https://news.yahoo.com/bernie-sanders-campaign-touts-diversity-fights-narrative-2016-194035907.html?

[7] Ed Kilgore, Elizabeth Warren’s Struggle to Draw Black Voters Is a Big Problem. New York Intelligencer. http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/08/elizabeth-warren-is-struggling-to-draw-black-voters.html

[8] John Wagner, Jill Biden urges support for husband even if voters consider their candidates ‘better’ on the issues. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/jill-biden-urges-support-for-husband-even-if-other-democrats-are-better-on-the-issues/2019/08/20/e9fb1738-c33a-11e9-b72f-b31dfaa77212_story.html

[9] Matt Viser and John Wagner, Biden tells minority voters in Iowa that ‘poor kids’ are just as bright as ‘white kids’. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-tells-minority-voters-in-iowa-that-poor-kids-are-just-as-bright-as-white-kids/2019/08/09/4926be02-ba8e-11e9-a091-6a96e67d9cce_story.html

[10] Stephanie Mencimer, 90 Percent of Republicans Still Think Trump Is Doing a Great Job. Mother Jones. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/05/90-percent-of-republicans-still-think-trump-is-doing-a-great-job/

[11] Ed O’keefe, Elizabeth Warren publicly apologizes for first time over controversial DNA test, CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/elizabeth-warren-apology-controversial-dna-test-native-american-heritage-2019-08-19/

[12] Colby Itkowitz, ‘Little Marco,’ ‘Lyin’ Ted,’ ‘Crooked Hillary:’ How Donald Trump makes name calling stick, The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2016/04/20/little-marco-lying-ted-crooked-hillary-donald-trumps-winning-strategy-nouns/

[13] Grace Sparks, Monmouth poll: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren in three-way lead for Democratic bid, CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/26/politics/monmouth-august-democrats-biden-warren-sanders/index.html

A Report from Mexico City: The Mexican Scream

Torre Latino (with the yellow vaulted ceiling) located in the city centre offers the best view of Mexico DF
Torre Latino (with the yellow vaulted ceiling) located in the city centre offers the best view of Mexico DF
© Francesca Borsato

María de las Cuevas│mariadelascuevas@hotmail.com

Every 15 September, Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain. The Mexican War of Independence broke out on 15 September 1810, after 300 years of colonial rule by Spain, and ended in 1821. Mexico’s Independence Day commemorates the blending of two cultures:  Mexican and Hispanic.

The call to revolution that spurred Mexicans to fight the Spanish Empire in 1810 is known as El Grito, the Spanish word for scream, and is commemorated with jubilation by all Mexicans every 15 September. On this day, they honour the heroes that gave them back their homeland after 300 years of colonisation by the Spanish Empire. Mexico celebrates its independence, and Mexicans “scream” that they are proud of their roots and the cultural mix that characterises their society. The only exception for this celebration was in 1847, when Mexico was occupied by American troops. After the Mexican–American War, Mexico lost about one-third of its territory, including nearly all of present-day California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.

“On 15 September, Mexicans honour the heroes of independence…”

The annual holiday is a non-religious celebration that brings Mexican society together. There is a festive atmosphere on the streets, with mariachis singing on every square, with people dancing and partying. The air is filled with the lovely smell of tortillas. On 15 September at 11:00 p.m., everyone screams together the call for independence made by Miguel Hidalgo, the priest that started the War of Independence by mobilising the Creole society. This shout is repeated by the Mexican President, who is currently Enrique Peña Nieto, representative of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The following call is screamed on the zocalo – the main square of Mexico City – at the same time by every governor in the 31 departments that form the country:

“Hurrah, hurrah, and hurrah…”

“Hurrah for the Independence; Hurrah for the heroes that gave us our homeland; Hurrah for Hidalgo; Hurrah for Morelos; Hurrah for Allende; Hurrah for the Independence; Hurrah for Mexico, Hurrah for Mexico, Hurrah for Mexico”.

The day Mexicans were born on the world political map

Ambassador Arturo Gonzalez, the director of the third country mobility programme of Erasmus Mundus Euroculture at the National University Autonoma of Mexico (UNAM), explained: “On this day we celebrate the achievement of independence for our country. 15 September 1810 represents the day Mexicans were born on the world political map. I am proud of Mexicans’ ability to maintain the unity of our country in search of our own philosophy, a complex issue due to the enormous diversity of Mexican society. There is no doubt our society has influences from other nations. Parts of this heritage are positive, other aspects are more negative”. The ambassador also highlighted the fact that Mexico has not had a military government since 1940.

“The annual holiday is no longer a celebration of independence, but of Mexican identity…”

Jose, a taxi driver in Mexico City, suggested that the annual holiday is no longer a celebration of independence, but of Mexican identity: “We Mexicans pay too much attention to gringos’ way of life. Yes! We like to follow gringos’ trends and how they speak (gringo is a word which refers to Americans), but on 15 September there is an exception. On that day, all Mexicans are proud of their roots, and we celebrate Mexican identity all together through our food, music, leg-pulls, and a shared feeling of happiness and hospitality.” In fact, the greatest experience that the MA Euroculture programme has given me is to get to know how incredibly kind and caring Mexicans are in general, always trying to help the foreigner.

Spain, the stepmother

“So the Spaniards are gone…but who are the Mexicans today?”

Independence from Spain gave birth to a new society, and a new identity.  The Creole identity is a mixture of European blood and that of the indigenous Indians. The Mexican War of Independence was inspired by the French Revolution. Nevertheless, it was a holy revolution with the aim of breaking apart from the foreigners after centuries of occupation. ‘But who are the Mexicans today?’ is the question posed by Hernan Taboada, professor of history in the Euroculture programme at UNAM. “Before the independence, they themselves were called Spaniards. But after that, the Motherland – Spain – became the ‘stepmother’, a monster that had oppressed Latin America for three centuries of tyranny. From now on, they will call themselves Americans. In my opinion, they are still waiting to find their own name”.

Time for the Mexican Moment: The Enrichment of the Country

The future of Mexico is debated. “What path should be followed by the country to achieve more social equality?” asks Tabohada. Should it be the North American model, or should Mexico focus instead on the experience of the European Union? In order to give an answer, Tabohada quotes the Latin American author and educator Simon Rodriguez: “We have to invent or we err. Has the Spirit of the Revolution died?” Tabohada asserts that “it certainly has, due to the petroleum industry and the education system that are both moving away from the nationalism that has ruled the state for years.”

“We have to invent or we err. Has the Spirit of the Revolution died?”

We are living the so-called “Mexican Moment”, as it has been dubbed in the New York Times. Experts foresee great development for the country in the short term. Nevertheless, Mexican youth question whether they are going to live to see  improvement, as progress fails to influence the economic standards of the lower classes, where the minimum wage is 64.76 MXN per day (3.7 EUR), according to the International Business Times. The country feels proud of its ability to become competitive as an exporter of services and producer of technology. It is a key issue for the economy of the country not to be too dependent on its oil and raw materials. Sadly, this growth doesn’t accompany the enrichment of the country as a whole due to the lack of equal redistribution of the money, with 50 million Mexicans living in poverty, according to the latest report by the official National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy.

“Mexicans have reasons to be proud but the persistent poverty is a sad reality…”

For more picture, click the first picture and click ‘next’

 If you liked Maria’s article, also read https://euroculturer.eu/2013/04/19/creative-europe-exporting-culture-at-the-eu-level/

Maria profile

 Maria de las Cuevas, Junior Editor

Maria de las Cuevas, journalist, studied at the University of Deusto and the University of Strasbourg and is currently doing a research track at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). She is grateful for the amazing program at the UNAM, which focuses on Mexican revolutions that closely accompanies the history of Spain, her homeland, and how European Liberal movements influenced on the fight for the independence of Latin America. She enjoys traveling around the country with her husband and friends. She’s also doing an internship at Studio Phi Creative Agency in the department of Social Media. She is impressed with the friendliness and warmth of the Mexican society which she wouldn’t be able to forget for a long time.

Mandarin – The Transformed Evil Chinese

wong tsz mandarin combine 1.jpg Wong Tsz

“A true story about fortune cookies: they look Chinese, they sound Chinese, but they’re actually an American invention, which is why they’re hollow, full of lies and leave a bad taste in the mouth.”

This is a quote from Mandarin in the opening of Iron Man 3, the final episode of Iron Man trilogy movie series.

Mandarin is a notable figure in Iron Man, both the comic and the movie versions. He was first created in 1964 in the Tales of Suspense as the ultimate rival of Tony Stark (Iron Man). Since Mandarin has been created for over 40 years already, the description of the transformation of Mandarin could be a far-flung journey. Instead of biting off more than it can chew, this article simply aims to compare the two different Mandarins from 1964 Marvel Comic to 2013 movie figure. I note here that Mandarin refers not only to the actual figure in Iron Man, but may also refer to the Bureaucrat which represents China, as well as the Chinese language and culture; to avoid confusion, I refer Mandarin hereon to the Marvel figure only, not the others.

“Who is Mandarin?”

Who is Mandarin? Mandarin as a fiction character is described to have been born around 1920 in China. His father was a Mongolian nobleman descended from Genghis Khan[1], and his mother was an English aristocrat[2]. Raised by his embittered aunt after his parents’ death, he became an important member of the Kuomintang Party before the Communist’s rule over China in 1949. Throughout his own discovery of mysterious power, he found a wreckage of a starship of the reptilian Kakaranatharian, or Makluan, extra-terrestrial race; there he found 10 rings with mysterious powers. Aimed to conquer the whole of China, and then the whole world, Mandarin set his base in China, and later also in Hong Kong. With his teleport technology derived from the Kakaranatharian spaceship, he could travel anywhere anytime. Mandarin also engaged in conflicts with other Marvel figures[3].

WongTsz 1

(Fig. 1 Mandarin’s first appearance in Tales of Suspense, 1964[4])

In the original Marvel comic, Mandarin never regarded himself as a terrorist or a teacher as he was described in the 2013 movie. Although one may find some resemblances of Mandarin with earlier evil Chinese figures found in western culture, namely Fu Manchu and Yellow Claw: long moustache, chinky eyes, and quasi-oriental outfit, Mandarin can be perceived very differently in many ways when compared with the previous Chinese villains. In fact, although according to Marvel’s official information Mandarin holds Chinese citizenship; he was never meant to be an equivalent to Fu Manchu or Yellow Claw; nevertheless, he is partially Chinese, therefore it should not be overlooked that Mandarin’s half Chinese half British origin gives great space of alteration of the character.

Wong Tsz 2

(Fig.2 Ben Kingsley as Mandarin in Iron Man 3, 2013[5])

What we find in Iron Man 3, however, is a completely different Mandarin.

Played by the Oscar-winning British actor Ben Kingsley, Mandarin is no longer the superpower evil which may control over almost everything. Yes, he was wearing 10 rings, but is without any superpower at all. To be more precise, he was just a puppet, a puppet of the real villain, Aldrich Killian. With sunglasses, Kingsley’s Mandarin looks more like a hip-hop star rather than a Chinese villain. In other words, the 2013 Mandarin shows almost no resemblances to Chinese at all.

The dilemma here I find on identifying Mandarin, or attempting to identify who Mandarin really is, is that, Mandarin is half British and half Chinese, which means Mandarin could be both ‘Western’ and ‘Orient’ at the same time. Thus, the proportion of ‘Chineseness’ or ‘Britishness’ may vary.

Mandarin’s Ten Rings

As I mentioned earlier, both Mandarins represent an evil figure from the Orient. Thus, the question is where exactly is the Orient? I reckon that the meaning of Orient changes when Mandarin himself changes. Considering the fact that the USA was engaged in wars during the time where both Mandarins were created. The first Mandarin was created in the 60s during the war with Vietnam. The latter was created in the early 21st century during the wars in the Middle East. One can see how Mandarin transformed from a Far-East villain to a Middle East villain. This can be proven by the changes in Mandarin’s ten rings:

Wong Tsz 3

(Fig. 3 Mandarin’s Ten Rings, 1964[6])

Ten Rings to which Mandarin and all other evils in the Iron Man 1-3 movies are connected to. The Ten Rings group is based in Afghanistan, and led by Mandarin[7]. The organization’s flag, symbol, as well as the dress code of its terrorist, are all highly associated with the Middle East:

Wong Tsz 4

(Fig. 4 Flag of the Ten Rings terrorist group, 2008-2013[8])

Wong Tsz 5

(Fig. 5 Tony Stark captured by Ten Rings in Iron Man 1 movie, 2008[9])

As I could see from the Iron Man movies, Mandarin’s magical ten rings were transformed into a terrorist group, Ten Rings, where all members wear one of the ten rings as a symbol. And here’s where the point of attention shifts: from Mandarin as an important figure to a terrorist group, the Ten Rings organization. In other words, Mandarin’s evil standing in the movie is strongly weakened.

And here’s something else.

More than the shift of focus and thus the ‘weakened’ Mandarin, the over-stretching ‘Orientalness’ in Mandarin’s character also gives fuel for further discussions. I consider the invention and reinvention of Mandarin as a reflection of the changing villain who Iron Man has been fighting against, hence, the evil ‘Others’. Both the 1964 Mandarin and the 2013 Mandarin show a lot of ambiguities. Yet, as I have demonstrated, despite the shift of characteristics in Mandarin himself, Mandarin was, at least partially, Chinese.

The perception of Iron Man 3 in China, especially by the Chinese audience, is therefore highly worthy of attention. To avoid the film from being banned by Chinese film authority, the name of Mandarin was changed to Man Daren (滿大人); the term Mandarin bears heavy association with Chinese ethnicity, whereas Man Daren does not. ‘Man’ is a very uncommon family name in China, and ‘Daren’ refers to a senior male. Such efforts in minimizing the Chineseness of Mandarin in the Chinese market, is done to avoid the racist connotation regarding this Chinese figure, regardless if he is evil or not[10]. More than that, in order to suit the huge market of Chinese audience, Iron Man 3 has a 4-minute-longer version tailor-made for Chinese audience, featuring famous Chinese actor and actress together with the Hollywood cast[11]. As a result, the opening box office in China made a record-high 21 million US dollars[12]. But what may be more profitable than the box office: both the original and Chinese version of Iron Man 3 embedded various Chinese brands into the movie for commercial promotions[13]. The slight awkwardness of embedding Chinese movie stars and brands with Hollywood cast in the 4-minute-longer Chinese versions was not very well received among all the Chinese audience[14]. However the effort of minimizing Mandarin’s Chineseness seems to have paid off, the overall perception of Iron Man, as well as Mandarin was mainly positive on the Chinese market.


When Mandarin first appeared in the Marvel comic in 1964, the USA was experiencing fierce civil right movements. On 11 June 1963, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation on the milestone Civil Rights Act, and later in 1964, the Act was enacted on 2 July; the African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the same year. One may thus argue that Mandarin could be regarded as a more ethnic-conscious figure under the tide of the civil rights movements. I noted previously that during the 1950s and the 1960s, the USA was in military conflict with communist regimes in Korea and Vietnam, where China also dispatched military interventions against the USA. One may thus assume that there might be parallel between staging Mandarin as an Oriental villain and actual Oriental enemies of the USA to that time.

Like Mandarin, China has undergone significant changes since the 1960s, and is now considered an important economic and political partner of the USA. My article serves only a glance of the transformation of Mandarin; the invention and reinvention of the character. Yet, despite all the differences, one may still find considerable ambiguities in both the old and new Mandarin. One shouldalso not forget, that Mandarin, or Man Daren, was, and still is, partly Chinese. Yet how the Western audience sees Mandarin, and how the Eastern sees Man Daren, could be something quite different.

[1] ’Biography for The Mandarin (Character) from Iron Man 3 (2013)’, Internet Movie Database,  http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0036533/bio

[2] ‘Mandarin’, Marvel Universe Wiki, http://marvel.com/universe/Mandarin

[3] For a full-biography of Mandarin, please refer to ‘Mandarin’, Marvel Universe Wiki, http://marvel.com/universe/Mandarin

[4] Picture from ‘Hero Complex’, Los Angeles Times, http://latimesherocomplex.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/mandarin1.jpg?w=396

[5] Picture from ‘New Iron Man 3 Poster: The Mandarin’, Imagine Games Network, http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/02/23/new-iron-man-3-poster-the-mandarin

[6]  Picture from ‘Could Use A Nail Trimmer’, The Powerless Power of Comics, http://peerlesspower.blogspot.de/2013/05/could-use-nail-trimmer.html

[7] ‘Ten Rings’, Marvel Cinematic Universe, http://marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com/wiki/Ten_Rings

[8]  Picture from ‘Ten Rings’, Marvel Cinematic Universe, http://marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com/wiki/Ten_Rings

[9] Picture from ‘How does the Mandarin fit into Iron Man 2?’, Comic Book Movie, http://www.comicbookmovie.com/fansites/Poniverse/news/?a=15697

[10] ‘Iron Man shows Hollywood’s bent to take on China censors’ steely grip’, Reuters India, http://in.reuters.com/article/2013/04/30/film-iron-man-china-idINDEE93T05P20130430

[11] ‘For a Bigger Chinese Box Office, Hollywood Hires Chinese Actors’, Bloomberg Businessweek, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-05-22/for-a-bigger-chinese-box-office-hollywood-hires-chinese-actors

[12] ‘Iron Man 3 smashes opening box office record in China’, CNN, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/03/business/iron-man-china

[13] ‘The Biggest Differences In China’s Version Of Iron Man 3’, Yahoo! Finance, http://finance.yahoo.com/news/heres-different-chinas-version-iron-145800812.html

[14] ‘Why Many in China Hate Iron Man 3’s Chinese Version’, Tokaku, http://kotaku.com/why-many-in-china-hate-iron-man-3s-chinese-version-486840429

If you liked Wong Tsz’s article, also read https://euroculturer.eu/2013/04/11/gangnam-style-decoding-transculturalism-in-pop-music/

Wong Tsz new profile Wong Tsz, Contributing Writer

Wong Tsz, from Hong Kong, moved to Europe for MA Euroculture (2010-12) after obtaining his BA in Language and Translation. Currently, he’s a PhD student in Musicology under DFG Research Group ‘Expert Cultures from the 12th to the 16th Century’. Wong Tsz played in various orchestras in Hong Kong and in Europe, including the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra, Open University of Hong Kong Orchestra, Göttingen University Orchestra, Groningen Students’ Orchestra MIRA, and currently in Academic Orchestra Göttingen AOV. He’s not only keen on playing music but is actively engaged in academic research. His Master’s thesis gives an in-depth study of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde under the scope of Orientalism theory by Edward Said. His current PhD project ‘Matteo Ricci in East West Music Exchange’ gives a detailed analysis to trace the early models of music exchange between China and Europe in 16th century.


Two Euroculturers’ Journey to Iran

Who are the two Euroculturers?

Mirja FB Mirja Simunaniemi, Euroculture 12-14

Niek FB Niek Zeeman, Euroculture 12-14

Two Euroculture students have travelled from Turkey to Iran. How? By Train. Why? You will learn at the very beginning of the video.

Where are you from? Uzbekistan?!

Sunset at Registan Square, Samarkand
Sunset at Registan Square, Samarkand

Suzanna Fatyan│susanna202001@yahoo.com

I am from Uzbekistan, a country with ancient history, amazing people and an unforgettable atmosphere. When I studied in Europe and travelled around, I met people who, surprisingly, had never heard of my country. Frankly speaking, it made me embarrassed! Ever since then, I have wanted to write about my country, at least briefly, although that is almost impossible. Especially in two pages! I would like for people hearing the name of Uzbekistan to have certain pictures and associations, even flavours with my country.. Thus, I will try to be very basic and clear: I will not follow any chronological order and will jump from one epoch to another. Why? Because, I would love to inspire everyone to research the rest through books, documentaries, memories, personal visits, and even Wikipedia! Before I start, I would like to note that the facts I am intending to list are not my personal discoveries. They are mere facts. They came to my mind with the aim to expose a certain image existing in my consciousness. I hope to succeed in expressing it.

“Fabulous cities from “Arabian Nights” such as Samarkand and Bukhara are found in Uzbekistan…”

First, note that the fabulous cities from “Arabian Nights” such as Samarkand and Bukhara are found in Uzbekistan. Now, I guess it becomes more or less clear where we are: In a fairy tale! Shaherezade, Alauddin and Sezam are familiar names in Europe, I am sure.

Despite its ancient history, Uzbekistan is a rather young country: it was established in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For this reason it is frequently perceived as part of Russia. There are influences of Russian culture in Uzbekistan, however the country, located in Central Asia has its own peculiar authentic traditions, heritage, identity and history. The Uzbek cities are located in valleys and oases and have attracted people for centuries. At one point, these cities turned into important commercial and cultural centres of the Great Silk Road. Thus, the Uzbekistani people have never lived in a homogeneous society. For centuries it has been known for its diversity and multiculturalism. It absorbed the best from the world and created its own face, its own peculiarity.

“For centuries it has been known for its diversity and multiculturalism…”

The most famous ancient civilizations associated with Uzbekistan and Central Asia are Bactria, Sogdiana and Khoresm. They had powerful political, cultural and economic influence over the Great Silk Road. Through trade they served as key players in establishing connections between the East and the West. Silk, velvet, spices, fruits, jewelleries and leather were all good reasons for merchants from both east and west to travel thousands of kilometres through deserts, mountains and other obstacles for years. (Remember Marco Polo?! Many centuries later. But I promised to jump from one epoch to another)

Fragment of tileworks in Samarkand
Fragment of tileworks in Samarkand

Science is another field that made Uzbekistan famous worldwide. Worldwide we study math and use words as algorithm and algebra in our vocabulary. Yet, did you know much of what we study with maths stems from Uzbekistan? Algorithm or Algoritmi is a Latin transcription for al-Khwarizmi, who is the famous mathematician from Khwarezm (Khorezm), while Algebra, or Kitab al-Jabr wa-l-Muqabala is one of his major works. Avicenna or Ibn Sina, Alberonius or Beruni, Alpharabius or Farabi – these are just a few names that explain everything about the incredible passion for knowledge of our people..

Quite importantly, the mentioned scholars along with many unmentioned ones preserved the Hellenistic heritage for the future generations. Their scientific achievements and their translations from Greek had an incredible impact on the world of science. After reaching Europe, those achievements managed to change the essence of the latter by triggering the development of the European Renaissance.

“Uzbekistan raises associations with many heroic personalities…”

Besides the Great Silk Road and various scientific achievements, Uzbekistan raises associations with heroic personalities, the most notorious of whom is Tamerlane. The genius general united almost the whole world. His glorious campaigns are described in history books, novels, operas, poetry (for example, “Tamburlaine the Great” by Christopher Marlowe). Europeans perceived Tamerlane as liberator from the Bayazid and the Mongols. In his homeland, the ruler is praised as the creator, reviving the city of Samarkand, after the Mongol invasion. In Samarkand Tamerlane established the capital of his empire, where the wise Amir gathered the best scholars, architects and craftsmen. Since that time Samarkand has become renowned for its amazing azure domes, beautiful mosques and madrasahs decorated with intricate lace ornaments.

The descendants of Tamerlane inherited his talents. Mirzo Ulughbek, the grandson of Tamerlane, established an astronomical observatory in Samarkand where he calculated the coordinates of a thousand and eighteen stars just with his bare eyes, using a giant sextant (astronomical instrument)! He wrote the book “Zij Guragani”, which for centuries served as the main manual on astronomy.

Many Europeans admire the masterpieces of the Mughal Dynasty in India, but almost nobody knows that Babur, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty and Empire, was a descendant of Tamerlane and his origins were from Uzbekistan, in particular form Andijan in Ferghana valley. For that reason in exploring Uzbekistan and India, a connoisseur of Oriental culture would immediately notice common features in numerous aspects.

Gur Emir (Tomb of Tamerlane), Samarkand
Gur Emir (Tomb of Tamerlane), Samarkand

Now I would like to skip several epochs and travel to recent history. The early 20th century was a difficult period: it brought World War I, the revolution in Russia and other tragic events. After becoming annexed by the Russian Empire in the 19th century, in 1924 the territory of Uzbekistan turned into a national state – the Soviet Socialistic Republic of Uzbekistan. Like in previous periods, Uzbekistan served as a refuge for intellectuals, artists, aristocracy and clergy men, but no longer for trade routes due to the challenges of humanity faces because of the wars. During World War I and World War II, Uzbekistan helped thousands of evacuated and deported people – something, which I know from my family history. Being Crimean Tatar, my grandmother was deported by Stalin to Uzbekistan from Crimea, while my grandfather’s Armenian family came to Samarkand from Nagorny Karabakh. Both of my grandparents saved their lives and found a motherland in Uzbekistan thanks to the amazing warmth and hospitality of the Uzbek people. The Uzbeks opened the doors of their houses and hearts, adopted orphans and accepted everybody in need. Kindness is a major feature of Uzbek people.

“Kindness is a major feature of Uzbek people…”

If you were to land in Uzbekistan today, you would feel such warmth as if you were among your closest family members. Like in the past, neighbours in the Uzbek mahallahs (city quarters) visit each other for a chat and a cup of green tea under the vines in cosy courtyards. If you are a guest from far away you would be welcomed with even more passion. Understandably, the most beautiful and comfortable room in the Uzbek house is the mehmonhona, the guestroom. And the most delicious food is also for guests: Plov, manty, chuchvara, shorpa, norin to name a few.The Uzbeks appreciate good and substantial food. As you know, history is an important ingredient in the Uzbeks’ nature. You would proudly be introduced to the incredible creations of our ancestors: the Registan Square, Shakhi Zinda, Poi Kalon, Samani Masoleum, Ark, Ichan Kala. Beautiful verses by Uzbek poets like Alisher Navoi, Babur, Nodira would be quoted to you.You would be charmed, seduced and could suddenly fall in love with this country named Uzbekistan…

Figs at Siab Bazaar
Figs at Siab Bazaar

If you liked Suzanna’s article, also read https://euroculturer.eu/2013/05/01/my-memories-of-krakow-the-heart-of-polish-culture-and-cuisine/

suzannaSuzanna Fatyan, Contributing writer

Suzanna is from a city of Oriental fairy tales – Samarkand in Uzbekistan. She studied English language and literature in Samarkand State Institute of Foreign Languages for BA. In 2008, Suzanna graduated MA Euroculture from Jagiellonian University in Krakow and Deusto University, San Sebastian. Suzanna works as tour guide in Samarkand, writes blog for Uzbek Journeys in Australia and travels as much as possible.

How I got to feel European

I heard people asking me if I was the girl “coming from Europe” and was surprised to realise they considered it as exotic. I have watched the news and got upset when Kiwi journalists presented a too simplistic vision of the European Union or took the English point of view to illustrate the general European opinion. I had probably never felt myself as ‘European’ as I did in New Zealand. 


Stéphanie Stehli │stephanie@stehli.fr

As a brand new MA Euroculture graduate, I am expected to be able to define “European culture”. Although, I think there is no one and only answer possible, I indeed developed my own understanding of it. The funny thing is that I actually got to realise this outside of Europe. For my third semester, I was lucky enough to find an internship in New Zealand. I had no idea that this would change my vision of what it means to “be European”.

I was working in  “International Education Consultancy”, which means that I was basically proposing solutions for people willing to study or work in New Zealand, to fulfilling their plans with options, that were tailored for their specific needs and wishes. The agency I was working for particularly targeted young German-speaking people, i.e. Germans, Austrians, Swiss and Northern Italians. Some of its actions were however,  directed to adults, seniors and people from other nationalities. The team provided them with help and follow-ups during the total duration of their stay, from its organisation before they arrived until the very end. Part of my job was thus to help them to adapt to their new cultural environment and to cope with cultural shock.

” International education, in making people aware of diversity, represents a powerful tool in the fight against prejudice. “

It was already clear to me that academic mobility has today become essential for the development of countries. All around the world, regions face similar challenges, especially in terms of modernisation of education. International education programmes are therefore, increasingly established so as to prepare students to better compete in the labour market. When studying or undertaking work placements abroad, students develop the skills they need to be operational in a global and knowledge-based economy. Benefits are obviously not solely economic. Such an experience allows them to open their minds, acquire new world views and increase their cross-cultural communication skills. International education, in making people aware of diversity, represents a powerful tool in the fight against prejudice. It consists of a strong asset for advancing mutual understanding and dialogue among nations and peoples.

By supporting international mobility, agencies like the one I was working for directly act as initiators in that sense. When a student is hosted by a local family, they both exchange cultural knowledge and get to know each other as they interact and live together.

” Living in the Pacific area is way more than an immersion into an English-speaking country: they get to deeply know the Maori culture, which is completely different to the European one.”

Stephanie_maori hakaGerman boys and girls realise that New Zealand is not only the beautiful setting of the Lord of the Rings. They discover that seasons are in reverse, that people drive on the left and turn their tap the other way around; that they don’t insulate their houses as well as in Europe and don’t talk as openly about certain topics;  they celebrate Christmas having barbecues at the beach and  they have different eating habits. When going to school, they learn to respect the dress code and wear uniforms, they experience a new organisation and are divided into “houses”; they can pick between “outdoor activities” or “cooking” lessons and they play rugby and cricket or go sailing and wind-surfing on the weekend. On top of that they learn a foreign language, make “Kiwi”[1] friends and build strong links with a new family on the other side of the world. For them, living in the Pacific area is way more than an immersion into an English-speaking country: they get to deeply know the Maori culture, which is completely different to the European one. For the Director of my work placement institution, the positive effects of youth mobility are obvious: students “become citizens of the world and are intimately connected with it. They leave transformed. They will keep that in their flesh and carry it in their heart forever”[2].

“Many host families are also looking for cultural exchanges while staying home. “

Stephanie_kiwi heartFrom the other side, when a “Kiwi” family hosts a German, Austrian, Italian or Swiss student, they get a genuine insight into the European culture. They understand that German students are not used to the same polite forms of address than Kiwi people, that they might require an extra-blanket in winter because European houses are usually better insulated; that it is important to try to speak openly with the students and that they might have some difficulties to really express what they mean in English. It is these cultural exchanges that many host families are looking for when hosting an international student. It represents a way for them to travel and discover foreign customs and habits while staying home. I visited one family in particular that was travelling around the world every summer because having international students at home made them feel like getting to know more about European countries. They were eager to host international students every academic year to get this intercultural knowledge. Besides, the German Director of my institution remembers that when she first came to Nelson thirty years ago, she was probably the only German there. This is hard to imagine nowadays. “Things have completely changed,” she says, “and this has probably contributed to make New Zealanders stop associating Germans with Nazis”[3].

” Living in New Zealand, I realised that things which seem so normal in Europe, are far from being obvious there (…)  it surprisingly improved my understanding of what it means to be European.”

Living in Europe, this might be difficult to understand. We are so close to Germany and get to interact with Germans on a regular basis. For me, the German stereotype of the Nazi disappeared a long time ago. But by living in New Zealand, I realised that things which seem so normal in Europe, are far from being obvious there. I myself experienced situations where I had to certify that Strasbourg was neither in Germany, nor in Austria. I had to explain to people that in Europe, you could travel and cross borders within states only by owning a European passport and that yes – French people really do eat frogs and snails, but not as an everyday meal. I heard people asking me if I was the girl “coming from Europe” and was surprised to realise they considered it as exotic. I have watched the news and got upset when Kiwi journalists presented a too simplistic vision of the European Union or took the English point of view to illustrate the general European opinion. I had probably never felt myself as ‘European’ as I did in New Zealand, partly because I could feel people seeing me as such everyday, which is something you do not usually experience when living inside Europe. I certainly contributed to increasing their knowledge about Europe, but they also surprisingly improved my understanding of what it means to be European.

[1] “Kiwi” is a term for referring to New Zealanders.

[2] Interview with Birgit Neumann, Director of Study Nelson, 16 February 2013.

[3] Interview with Birgit Neumann, Director of Study Nelson, 28 January 2013.

stephanie profileStéphanie Stehli, Contributing Writer

Stéphanie Stehli is from France and started to travel around Europe when she did part of her BA in Communication in Belgium and worked in the UK as a French Assistant. She then studied Euroculture in Strasbourg and Bilbao, before doing an internship in beautiful New Zealand. Passionate about interculturality, she recently graduated after finishing her master thesis about the impact of regional cultures in Europe.

Tick-Tock: The View from Home

Syed Rashid Munir │srmunir@gmail.com 

I bat an eyelid.

I’m walking in the plaza, basking in the sun. I can practically smell the sea from here

I blink again.

I’m back in our old house, peering out the foggy window. It’s late. The house has a rickety, wooden fence whose small gate constantly makes a horrible, creaking sound whenever it’s windy outside. It’s pitch dark, but a strange luminescence from the other side surrounds the edges of the door, an eerie white shine that makes me even more terrified of the light than I am of the dark.

I can see the door move every so slightly, and squeak back to smash against the fence, producing that rhythmic nuisance.

The leaves on the trees are dead still this time, though.

I feel a chill run down my spine. I thought it’d never happen.

I blink for a third time.

Mercifully, I wake up in my own bed this time, drenched in sweat. The electricity’s been out for a couple of hours already, with no signs of returning any time soon…

It’s been about two months now since I’ve been back home, in Lahore. The heat is as unbearable, the bazars as dirty, and the roads as crowded as ever. But it’s not really the same. I have moved on in the time I was away, and so has Pakistan; regrettably, though, it has done so for the worse.

Everything that could’ve gone awry, indeed has. Yes, there are new roads, new buildings, and even a new democratic government, but the troubles run deep. You can make cosmetic changes to the country’s geographic sprawl, but nuisances like corruption, dishonesty, laziness, and a general aversion to truth, are hardly solved by anything less than commitment and dedicated effort.

Everywhere I look, I see a landscape marred by various issues. I can only talk about so much here, and I will chart out some problems in the coming lines, but how’s this for starters: Pakistan is on its way to become a water-scarce country by 2017; that’s not 20 years from now, it’s just a university term away. And for a country that derives a fourth of its GDP from the agriculture sector, and employs a major portion of the labor in the same, that should be setting off all kinds of alarms in the policymaking halls. But I’m yet to see this issue come up in any debate.

And there’s no solution to the massive electricity shortage problem either. Pakistanis want their light bulbs (and air-conditioners) to stay on 24/7, but due to the enormous debt the government owes to the power-generation companies, that’s not a possibility anymore. Also, since no one is willing to pay higher tariffs for electricity (which, very crudely, equals to more revenue and less debt for the government) we, effectively, have 12-hour days where the manufacturing sector has all but packed its bags, the laptop batteries have given up, and the children are late for school because their uniform is not ironed on time.

Moreover, we are facing what I call the ‘Population Epidemic’. Pakistan has close to a 190 million (!) people living in its territory; that’s about two-thirds of the total US population living in an area slightly less than twice the size of California. We’re the world’s sixth largest population, and incidentally, the only global scale on which we’ve consistently stayed close to the top, beaten only by Brazil (Pakistan is 146th on the HDI rankings, and spends a measly 2.5% of its GDP on health) and we’re growing by a rate of 3%. Contraception, despite being relatively cheap, is not readily available, and since a sizeable majority considers birth control ‘un-Islamic’, there isn’t much hope of its widespread use anyway. The Pakistani middle-class has reached a critical mass, beyond which the rules of supply and demand are going to go out of the window. More people have more money, but there’s less and less stuff to buy. And then there’s the preferences: people would rather have their gardens trimmed up nicely, and roll around in expensive vehicles than ensure that their children are educated and have an open worldview. The purchasing power structure’s also biased towards screwing the services industry. Take this instance: a Euro would buy you a haircut, or one liter of fruit juice. Likewise, for 50 Euros, you can have someone clean your house, tend to your garden, and wash your dishes and clothes on a monthly basis, or, you could just buy a nice pair of jeans. And then some people are mystified as to why anyone would leave when Pakistan has it all?

But even the biggest issues cower beneath the mightiest issue of them all: Religious Extremism. There was a time when no one ever bothered to ask their friends what religion or sect they belonged to. You’d chant The Lord’s Prayer everyday in the school assembly, and then go offer the Friday prayer, all without a hitch. Sadly though, it all seems like a long forgotten dream now. Pakistan was never a particularly liberal country, but now, all ground for debate and discussion on matters of faith has been completely lost. Everything from your web browser’s history to the size of your beard, from the number of children you have to the color of your underwear, from the way you pray to the way you have sex… everything is a public issue, the boundaries between the private and the public never really existing from the very beginning. Being ‘secular’ is almost an insult in a country where the extremists are seen as brave and uncompromising defenders of religion. People who are against such hijacking of religion, in turn, are lynched and burnt at the stake, though thankfully, only metaphorically… for now, at least.

SRMunir tick tock

The consequent terrorism such thinking has ensued also paints a gruesome picture. It might seem extremely callous of me to say this, but any day without a terrorism-related incident in Pakistan now just seems… abnormalincomplete, even. Close to 50,000 Pakistani lives have been lost as a direct cause of terrorism since 9/11, and yet there’s no end; the situation seems to be only worsening with time. Many (foolishly) believe that the Kraken of religious extremism, the most visible and recent manifestation of which is the Pakistani Taliban, will go back to sleep once the US withdraws its troops next year from the neighboring Afghanistan, but of course, that will never happen. The US is negotiating its withdrawal after a job not even half-done; Pakistan doesn’t have this luxury. Even if with the American and NATO presence, terrorists can carry out their activities (including bombing schools, hospitals, government buildings, prisons, army installations… and last but not the least, funeral processions) with such ease what would happen when the situation was otherwise? Afghanistan would swiftly fall to the Taliban (it already has) and the last twenty or so years would’ve been for nothing. With the porous ‘border’ (I’m not sure the term qualifies) between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the secure base of an entire country (plus a considerable chunk of Pakistani land) at the Taliban’s helm, and, regrettably, a cheering majority on both sides of the Durand Line that only disagrees with the means used by the extremists, and not their intent, this breed of religious extremism is here to stay. Forget about booze and music and sex and ‘immorality’ (whatever that means nowadays); in Pakistan, facial hair is going to become an issue of life and death in the near future.

In a country where Muslims are not afraid to kill other Muslims even on funeral processions, what hope is there to stop the persecution of minorities, religious or otherwise?

Living in Pakistan, then, is like living inside a ticking bomb. I wonder how much time’s left is the only question on my mind over the constant tick-tock of suicide blasts, jailbreaks, and executions.

Tick – The Bury-Your-Head-In-The-Sand approach only works when the hyenas are chained up…

…not when they are digging into your flesh – tock.

The Pakistanis worried about the threat of extremism have God on their side.

The extremists have God, and a suicide bomber vest.

But whose side is God really on, you ask?

Whichever side wins, naturally. Ever seen the losers laying claim to the Almighty?

Tick “Hell is the impossibility of reason.”

Welcome, then, to the Islamic Republic – tock.

Tick – the hair on my neck’s standing on end…

I’m peering out the foggy window once again.

The door slowly screeches open, allowing the light to pierce through the darkness.

The demons enter.

I blink furiously.

They don’t stop.

Rashid new profile Syed Rashid Munir, Senior Writer

Rashid teaches Political Science and International Relations at the University of Management and Technology, Lahore, Pakistan.

Toru Takemitsu’s Requiem – The Aesthetic of Mono no Aware

In this article, I do not intend to frame music to its origin, or to generalise music composition into representation of a certain culture. Instead, what I wish to demonstrate is how I see Toru Takemitsu’s Requiem as a response to his personal life experience of war, as well as how the music reflects the beauty of Japanese aesthetics.

Wong Tsz Takemitsu 1

Wong Tsz

Requiem for strings (弦楽のためのレクイエム) was Toru Takemitsu’s (武満徹 1930 – 1996) early composition in 1957. It remained unknown to the world until 1958, when Igor Stravinsky visited Japan and heard Takemitsu’s composition. The music had been mistakenly selected by staff of the Japanese national broadcast station NHK as work of the Russian composer, but Stravinsky insisted on hearing it to the end and expressed admiration for the work. In a later press conference, he praised its “sincerity” and “passionate” writing[1]. Stravinsky subsequently invited the Japanese composer to lunch; Takemitsu later described it as an “unforgettable” experience[2].

“Stravinsky insisted on hearing it to the end…”

Composed as a tribute to his mentor, composer Fumio Hayasaka (早坂文雄 1914 – 1955), Requiem for strings shows the composer’s avant-garde style of composition which absorbs elements of various forms of music (namely Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern’s Second Viennese School[3]); with great resemblance to Western classical music. Requiem also shows a highly ‘non-Japanese’ commotion that audiences may find difficult to relate to anything Japanese.

In this article, I do not intend to frame music to its origin, or to generalise music composition into representation of a certain culture. Instead, what I wish to demonstrate is how I see Takemitsu’s Requiem as a response to his personal life experience of war, as well as how the music reflects the beauty of Japanese aesthetics.

World War II

“I hated everything about Japan at that time because of my experience during the war…”

Largely self-taught, Takemitsu’s first encounter with Western classical music occurred after World War II. Western music had been banned during the war in Japan. In an effort to learn music, he would walk through the city searching for the sound of a piano, whereupon he would “ask to touch the piano for five minutes. I was never refused!”[4]

Takemitsu worked for the US Armed Forces, but was soon hospitalised in 1953 for a long time due to tuberculosis. During his time in hospital, he spent many hours listening to Western music on the US Armed Forces network radio. The discovery of Western classics helped Takemitsu to recover from his terrible war trauma. “My first teacher was the radio”, said Takemitsu. The composer recalls his military life after conscription in 1944 as “extremely bitter”[5]. The composer explained much later in life that, for him, Japanese traditional music “always recalled the bitter memories of war”[6]. For many years he considered Japanese traditional music as a symbol of the horrible war. “I hated everything about Japan at that time because of my experience during the war,” he said[7].

Influenced and inspired by composers such as Debussy and Messiaen, Takemitsu rediscovers music with a modern perspective. He co-founded Jikken Kobo (実験工房Experimental Workshop) with Joji Yuasa (湯浅譲二), Katsuhiro Yamaguchi (山口勝弘), Akiyama Kuniharu (秋山邦晴), and 10 other young artists in 1951[8] and conceived electronic music, especially Musique concrete (Concrete Music). At the same time, Takemitsu demonstrated great strength in mastering Western orchestration, of which Requiem could be regarded as his earliest large-scale orchestral work.

I share with you here a notable recording of Takemitsu’s Requiem for strings, played by the New Japan Philharmonic in 1991 under the baton of the renowned Seiji Ozawa:

Mono no Aware

Despite its ‘non-Japanese’ tonality and orchestration, what I find most ‘Japanese’ in Requiem is its sense of speechlessness beyond music itself, the relatableness to traditional Japanese aesthetics of Mono no Aware (物の哀れ). First described in the Japanese novel, The Tale of Genji by Japanese philosopher Motoori Norinaga (本居宣長1730 -1801), ‘mono no aware’ exhibits an important aspect of what is seen as traditional Japanese aesthetic consciousness. The component ‘aware’ portrays sorrow or misery; ‘mono no’ points this ‘aware’ to the things of the world, taken usually in the abstract sense; often to signify a sad but ephemeral beauty which is conspicuous in traditional Japanese cultural expressions. Mono no Aware’s sad, “fleeting beauty” is most closely connected to the Japanese notion of transience (無常mujō) or sensing-impermanence (無常觀mujō-kan): “nothing in the world is permanent, that all things, both beautiful and painful, must inevitably pass away”[9].

“Fleeting beauty…

Nothing in the world is permanent, that all things, both beautiful and painful, must inevitably pass away…”

Requiem is composed in ABA format[10]; Lent – Modéré – Lent. This taut structure delivers intensity throughout the piece. Gradually magnified by muted violins, Requiem transports a beautiful but hollow, later solid homophony; surrounded by a mist of lower strings, the continuous smooth passages of crescendo and decrescendo imitate the grizzle inhales and exhales of a singer:

wong tsz figure 1

<Fig.1 Lent = 56 Bar 1-3 >

The ‘breath’ of the music is highlighted in red, one can tell from the score that it is in steady crescendo, decrescendo, crescendo and decrescendo again. Takemitsu described this use of monotonic change of one single note as a River of Sound (音の河), where a background of audio flows in contrast to the movement of motive, which is highlighted in blue. The composer recalled “One day in the year 1948, I was trapped in a tiny train carriage; I had the thought of mixing one single noise into accurate notes, to be more precise, this noise is the channel which goes through sound in our life”. He further noted that by mixing noise into accurate notes, it implies to him linking all sounds together, and thus is named the River of Sound. He finds the River of Sound on one hand exterior to the rest of notes and, on the other hand, he also finds himself exterior to the world he knows[11]. This motive is then ended by a short viola solo, relocating the homophony into a richer tonality.

wong tsz figure 2

<Fig. 2 Modéré, = 86 Bar 45-47.>

The second section is even tenser with a faster tempo and more passionate syncopations which demonstrate grievances. This is further demonstrated by the use of two violins on an octave interval (highlighted in blue in Fig.2). With the use of only two violins, the composer marked rall. (rallentando) molto, which means slowly and drastically, which is against the overall tempo of modéré, giving sharp changes to both the volume and tempo.

The last passage recalls the opening theme, which is slightly shortened. This carries a reminder of the past which brings the beauty of sadness, and in my view, implies a Samsara vision of life, which can be related to the composer’s experience of struggling for life against illness.

“Mono no Aware is a sentiment towards nature and life, that life is part of death and death is part of life…”

I construe Mono no Aware as a sentiment towards nature and life, two main themes which often occur in Takemitsu’s compositions[12]; thus, life is part of death and death is part of life. Through this sentiment, one may overcome the transience of life and uncertainty of the future. All the soreness of life is momentary, and only by fully recognising the truth and retaining a peaceful mind, can one achieve a realm of eternity. At this particular time, when the tension between Japan and China, as well as among nations in Southeast Asia, grows, the recall of such aesthetic value is sorely needed for all mankind to keep in mind the astringent memories of war and the common desire of permanent peace.


Requiem for strings demonstrates a heavy influence of Western classical music in Toru Takemitsu’s early composition. The composer once said that, “I used to believe that I could only compose when I am confronted with a big mirror of Western Music, only after knowing the music of my own country, I realise that mirror is not just one-dimensional”[13]. Indeed, one may find more use of local traditional elements by the composer in his later experimental works, which highly correlates with elements from nature.

Takemitsu left over 100 compositions of chamber, orchestra, and film scores after his death in 1996. My own interpretation of his Requiem serves to only glimpse into the composer’s life and his imaginary world, and I certainly wish for more listeners to carry on this discovery.

Further readings:

Burt, Peter. The Music of Toru Takemitsu. UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Siddons, James. Toru Takemitsu, a Bio-Bibliography. USA: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001.

Takemitsu , Asaka, A Memoir of Toru Takemitsu, USA: Indiana, iUniverse, 2010.

[1] Burt, Takemitsu’s Works, “The Music of Toru Takemitsu“, p.71

[2] Takemitsu, Toru [with Tania Cronin and Hilary Tann], “Afterword“, Perspectives of New Music, vol. 27 no. 2 (Summer 1989), pp.205–207

[3] “Requiem – LA Phil,” Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, http://www.laphil.com/philpedia/music/requiem-toru-takemitsu

[4] “A guide to Toru Takemitsu’s music,” Guardian News and Media Limited, http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/tomserviceblog/2013/feb/11/contemporary-music-guide-toru-takemitsu

[5] Takemitsu, Toru, “Contemporary Music in Japan”, Perspectives of New Music, vol. 27, no. 2, (Summer 1989), p.3

[6] Ibid

[7] “A guide to Toru Takemitsu’s music,” Guardian News and Media Limited, http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/tomserviceblog/2013/feb/11/contemporary-music-guide-toru-takemitsu

[8]実験工房 Jikken-kobo,” アートワード(現代美術用語辞典ver.2.0), http://artscape.jp/artword/index.php/%E5%AE%9F%E9%A8%93%E5%B7%A5%E6%88%BF

[9] Mark Meli, “Motoori Norinaga’s Hermeneutic of Mono no Aware: The Link Between Ideal and Tradition,” Michele Marra ed., Japanese Hermeneutics: Current Debates in Aesthetics and Interpretation, University of Hawaii Press, pp.60-75, Feb. 2002

[10] Any single section of music consisting of phrases or other musical sections could be represented by ‘A’. This musical section can be repeated to create an ‘AA’ form. If put together with a new section, ‘B’, the musical form is then called ‘AB’, showing two contrasting musical sections. Thus, when ‘A’ is repeated (even with modification), it forms an ‘ABA’ structure.

[11] For more detailed descriptions concerning River of Sound, please refer to Toru Takemitsu’s book 音楽を呼びさますもの (Music Awakened), Tokyo: Shinchosha Publishing, 1985

[12] See: Music of Tree (1961), Winter (1971), The Spirit of Love (1979), Rain Coming for chamber orchestra (1982), Twill by Twilight—In Memory of Morton Feldman (1988), Tree Line for chamber orchestra (1988), How slow the Wind (1991).

[13]Takemitsu, Toru,武滿Essay選,朝向語言之海》(Essays from Toru Takemitsu, Towards the Ocean of Language), Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo Publishing, 2008, pp.30.

Wong Tsz new profile Wong Tsz, Contributing Writer

Wong Tsz, from Hong Kong, moved to Europe for MA Euroculture (2010-12) after obtaining his BA in Language and Translation. Currently, he’s a PhD student in Musicology under DFG Research Group ‘Expert Cultures from the 12th to the 16th Century’. Wong Tsz played in various orchestras in Hong Kong and in Europe, including the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra, Open University of Hong Kong Orchestra, Göttingen University Orchestra, Groningen Students’ Orchestra MIRA, and currently in Academic Orchestra Göttingen AOV. He’s not only keen on playing music but is actively engaged in academic research. His Master’s thesis gives an in-depth study of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde under the scope of Orientalism theory by Edward Said. His current PhD project ‘Matteo Ricci in East West Music Exchange’ gives a detailed analysis to trace the early models of music exchange between China and Europe in 16th century.

Contact: wongtsz@gmail.com

Hipster or Hipstered?

Do you follow or not? Following tendencies in society

George 3

Georgios Tsarsitalidis│tsarsitalidis@hotmail.com

Often individuals define themselves by projecting the ‘other’. In many cases this ‘other’ can be music, fashion, movie stars or even someone you see walking down the street on an ordinary day. Who did not have posters on their bedroom walls when they were young? The way you dress, what you listen to, what you say, or even what you eat transmit unconscious messages to other people about your identity or the tendencies you follow in order to formulate that identity. In contemporary society, the way you act and look becomes even more important as people can categorise you with a simple glance.

Modern hipster

George 1One category that many are put in to is the ‘modern hipster’. As ‘rock’ people define themselves through the adoption of specific behaviour, clothes and music, hipsters do the same in contemporary society. Hipsters use music and contemporary cultures in conjunction with older ones to put together the hipster look. Hipsters are ‘architects’ for putting together their look derived and defined by many subcultures, either old or contemporary. Thus they create a look which can be considered as ‘fashion mosaic’. This movement, however, has not been clearly defined due to its multicultural character. Also, in my opinion, the term ‘hipster’ is undefined by many people even though the hipster movement is here and, I think, is going to stay for a while.

Defining hipster

George 2Hipster is a subculture movement of recent young, urban, middle-class people who listen to independent or non-mainstream music and are characterised by their alternative, liberal and bohemian fashion. Generally they are considered to be free spirited and open to new ideas, and adopting of an alternative lifestyle by utilising contemporary technological gadgets. Photography is their habit and their ‘chill-out’ way of behaviour becomes their motto. Hipsters are considered to be relaxed, outgoing people and sometimes look as if they live in their own world.

Hipsters are young adults who put tuck trousers inside their leather boots. In winter they have big, thick scarves and in summer they wear open V-neck t-shirts with colourful frame Ray-Ban sunglasses. They usually wear tight blue or white shirts with suspenders, and you can usually see their striped white socks under their tight black short trousers.

When it comes to music, we can say that they usually listen to Mumfords & Sons (song: “Little Lion Man”), Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (song: “Home”) or Fun (songs: “We Are Young” and “Carry On”) while they are using their smart phone to upload cool photos on Facebook or Instagram. Hipsters are considered to be sensitive, open-minded and interesting. In Europe, Scandinavian countries like Sweden, especially in its capital Stockholm, are considered as capitals of the hipster movement due to the bohemian and relaxed attitudes of young adults there.

Who are hipsters? When asked MA Euroculture 2011-13 students in Bilbao…

rashid fb small Rashid Munir

“Hipsters are the devil-may-care attitude people, mostly young, urban middle class, who have a distinct taste in indie music and film, liberal politics, and careless fashion. The entire attitude is taken up to show that they don’t care about following the mainstream rules.”

peter Peter Zwart

“Haha. Not entirely careless of fashion I would say though. They have this big like in ‘retro’ stuff, and the male-versions tend to dress pretty much ‘metro’, don’t they? And don’t forget they always have an iPhone and/or iPad.”

mayra fb small Mayra Lopes

“Oh, I would say they just don’t know how to wash their expensive brand clothes and that’s why they look old and it seems that they don’t care. Often confused with homeless people.”

stephanie Stéphanie Stehli

“I agree with Peter’s description, that’s exactly what I would say! Plus they have an iPod with trendy headphones (not earphones, never ever).”

olga fb small Olga Kuchynska

“Hipsters are young folks who want to stand out of the crowd and hate to be part of social mainstream, right? But it’s so funny, because while they want to escape the mainstream, the number of hipsters is growing to the extent that I can conclude they are becoming some kind of an alternative mainstream – nihilism and fuck-u-all and I-couldn’t care less attitude to many society-related issues) isn’t that cool now?? It’s becoming fashionable to be a hipster. Should I also assume the hipster’s mantle? I wonder where my grandama keeps her vintage frock…”

What’s your definition of Hipster? We welcome your comments!

If you want to watch ‘Hipstered’ Music videos:

(Sources of the pictures used for the article)

The first photo: http://www.treksinscifi.com/trekdaily/?p=3250

The second photo: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/modern%20hipster

The third photo: http://lexpress.fr

georgeGeorgios Tsarsitalidis, Trend Editor

George was born in Stockholm but was raised in Greece. Since 2008, he has lived again in Sweden. He has a Bachelor (Hons) in English Language and Philology from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He completed a two-year MA in American Literature and Culture at Uppsala University has studied MA Euroculture in Uppsala, Bilbao and Indianapolis and is now back in Uppsala to finish his MA thesis. George speaks five languages (Swedish, Greek, Italian, Greek Sign Language, English) and is currently studying Spanish and Arabic. He has presented his work at more than seven international conferences and has received more than five scholarships. He has published his work in the Athens Institute of Education and Research. He loves swimming, painting, and writing and he enjoys living ‘in-between’ Greece and Sweden.

President Xi’s “Chinese Dream”

For ordinary Chinese citizens, political reform is an important step to achieve their “Chinese dream”. It is only a matter of time until the leadership faces the challenge and takes significant steps to meet global standards.

Source: english.sina.com
Source: english.sina.com

Yu Xichao│yuxichao@yahoo.com.au

China successfully completed its leadership transition to the “fifth generation” in the recent Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “Two Sessions”[1]. The meeting formally appointed Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang as the new President and Premier of the People’s Republic of China. Thus, Xi became the most influential man in the world’s most populous nation, and he will govern this huge, complex and increasingly powerful state for the next ten years. In the conclusion of his speech to the National People’s Congress (NPC), he urged the nation to pursue and achieve the “Chinese dream”.

So, naturally, the question everyone is asking is what is the “Chinese dream”? And how can it be achieved?

President Xi said “The Chinese dream is a dream of the whole nation as well as of every individual”. According to Xi, the “Chinese dream” is based on two levels: the national level and the individual level.

On the national level, the new government promises to strive for “great renaissance” by making the country militarily and economically strong without seeking “hegemony”. China, under the previous Hu-Wen leadership, accomplished the so-called “economic miracle” with an average of nearly 10% GDP growth annually. A long period of “peaceful rise” resulted in China’s global-power status. Now, China plays a significant role in shaping the global political and economic order. Meanwhile, China is also demonstrating more confidence in its foreign policies.

China’s remarkable economic growth benefited from Deng’s “Reform and Opening up” policy of 1978. Xi confirmed Deng’s economic reform as essential to the achievement of the “Chinese dream” and thus stressed the importance of continued economic development.

Fuguo Qiangbing (literally meaning “To enrich the country, strengthen the military”) is an ancient Chinese wisdom, originated about 2,500 years ago, which hints that growing economic power should necessarily be accompanied by growing military strength. So, Xi urged China’s military to improve its ability to “win battles and… protect national sovereignty and security”. Xi’s words have realistic meaning, implying the emerging challenges in today’s surrounding environment of China, in particular the escalation of tensions with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines over territorial disputes.

As China becomes stronger, it does not mean that China will seek hegemony. The concepts of Confucianism are deeply rooted in Chinese society, whose virtue of peacefulness is strongly embedded into Chinese culture. Nevertheless, China’s bitter experience in the modern period, particularly after the Opium War of 1840, has proven that the country needs a powerful military strength to protect itself from external forces that it does not desire.

China’s rise is based on its peaceful development policy. So, there is an unwavering commitment to continue this policy and to benefit from it. Meanwhile, Chinese leaders have continued to stress the country’s unshakable commitment to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The “Chinese dream” and “great renaissance of the Chinese nation” cannot be achieved if they cannot protect the country they live in.

In terms of the “Chinese dream” on the individual level, Xi promised to incessantly bring benefits to the Chinese people. It is true that Hu-Wen’s government achieved remarkable economic success, but the majority of Chinese citizens have not yet enjoyed the benefits of their country’s economic development. It is only the ruling elites and interest groups that have benefited from the economic accomplishment that every Chinese citizen participated in.

Meanwhile, many social problems have emerged, threatening the stability of society. The environmental crisis,  the wealth gap between the elite and the poor majority, food safety, and corruption have become real, urgent social issues. Under these circumstances, many Chinese people have reason to believe that their living conditions are getting worse.

As the new leader of this fast-changing state, Xi understands these difficult challenges within society. Therefore, he proclaimed that “the Chinese dream, after all, is the dream of the people”. Thus, “all Chinese people deserve equal opportunities to enjoy a prosperous life, to see their dreams come true and to benefit together from the country’s development”.

In reality, Chinese people are well aware that their country’s political development is far behind its  economic development. They have been calling on their new leaders to bring about political and social reforms to meet global standards, especially in the fields of democratization and freedom.

Every political reform is risky and needs a strong and powerful leader to implement it, especially in the case of China because it could involve conflict with vast interest groups. No doubt, there will be far-reaching consequences and billions of people’s lives will be affected.

For ordinary Chinese citizens, political reform is an important step to achieve their “Chinese dream”. It is only a matter of time until the leadership faces the challenge and takes significant steps to meet global standards.

Now, China is also facing historical change. The question is: will President Xi successfully lead the nation to achieve the “Chinese dream”?

Source: sina.com
Source: sina.com

[1]“Two sessions” or “Lianghui” refers to the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). They are held once a year in March. NPC is the highest state body and the unicameral legislative house in the People’s Republic of China. CPPCC is a political advisory body consisting of delegates from a range of political parties and organizations, as well as independent members.

Eminaldo profileYu Xichao, Contributing Writer

Xichao originally comes from Dalian, China, and completed his BA in International Relations at Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. He is currently studying MA Euroculture at the University of Göttingen as a home university, and the University of Strasbourg as a host university. His research interests include international relations, modern history, Asian studies and EU affairs